Even the kids will be happy to holiday in this comfy campervan, says Sue Baxalle.
The sign read "Carpark, 100m". Ahem. Not a 6m campervan park. On the Tapu-Coroglen road, north of Thames, there was no choice but to carry on.
The aim had been to visit the square kauri marked on our tourist map. Stress levels rose as the road became narrower and steeper. Martin, our 10-year-old, piped up: "Dad, we're taking up the whole road." We'd noticed.
Finally, a couple of kilometres on, we found a turning spot.
We parked in a wide gravel bay just past the official carpark and climbed the 184 steps to the tree. A well-maintained path and platform was constructed around the oddity of nature. Worth the effort.
We'd set off from Auckland the previous morning. The six-berth Mercedes Spirit 6 was the newest addition to the Maui fleet - an imposing vehicle at first, size-wise (6.8m long, 3.1m high and 2.25m wide), but it drove like a car. You just need to remind yourself to take turns wider than usual.
The children were excited and compared the interior to that of an aeroplane, complete with overhead luggage compartments. They were also impressed by the TV set with built-in DVD player.
I'd decided not to dampen the family's spirits by mentioning the bad weather forecast for the weekend, thinking at least I'd be able to report how well the campervan withstood stormy conditions.
Clouds gathered as we headed south towards the Bombay Hills. We refrained from discussing them, as if to do so would be a bad omen. It may have worked. The rain, at most, was a light shower.
At Thames, the free-wheeling feeling set in. With the gas turned on, we could relax with a coffee while the boys ran around outside.
Armed with a tourist map and some better idea of a route, we opted not to plan ahead, but to see where the road led us.
The earlier dark clouds were no longer so ominous. However, a cold wind was blowing and we didn't fancy a cold night. The campervan's heating was powered by electricity, so required a power connection. We chose to bed down at the Te Puru campground.
A typical Kiwi campground, it looked straight out of the 70s, but for our requirements - a power plug - it was quite satisfactory.
The kitchen area, at the rear of the vehicle, meant the cook could prepare meals away from foot traffic. Lounging space was fine, too - 12-year-old Pierre could even practise his guitar without feeling cramped.
After dinner and the long-awaited DVD - camping was never this good, thought the boys - we organised the van for the night. The table in the kitchen and the main table between the passenger travelling seats were quickly stored away and the beds unfolded for the boys. We adults chose the more spacious sleeping area above the cab - reached by a ladder.
Still the god Niwa was smiling on us as Saturday morning dawned with a clear, blue sky. After a breakfast of pikelets cooked on the trusty gas stovetop, we were back on the road. But not before we'd also tried out the shower - an excellent set-up over the loo and fold-away handbasin.
Safely back on the main coastal road after the square kauri detour, we headed on to Coromandel Town - a trail well worn by tourists and for good reason. The coast is magnificent and Coromandel a nice little town. Eagle-eyed Pierre noticed the lack of major chain fast-food outlets. Yippee!
Next stop, Hot Water Beach to see if the stories were true about subterranean sand spas. They were. We dug a trench in the sand and lounged in the piping-hot spring water for a couple of hours.
Night was beginning to fall, and so was the temperature. Hahei Holiday Resort was our second power plug stop. Perched on the hill overlooking the beach, this was a perfect location. While the campground was nearly empty at this time of year (June), it would surely resemble a small town in itself come summer.
After a trek to Cathedral Cove and back the next morning, we headed on, conscious for the first time since leaving home of the need to watch the clock. Our dog needed to be picked up and the campervan returned by 5.30.
Wistfully, we ate our final beachside meal at Tairua and drove back over the Bombays.
Sue Baxalle travelled courtesy of Maui.